By Thomas Conner
© TULSA WORLD
Johnny Cash is cool. Johnny Cash is a rebel. Johnny Cash is
an American myth. Johnny Cash is back.
Forging through his fourth decade of recording, Cash has once
again fired boosters in his career no one would have guessed he
had. After hooking up with hip, young rock and rap producer Rick
Rubin and signing to the rock label American Recordings, Cash
turned out one of the most phenomenal albums of his career, 1994's
This year, he's back with another expectations-breaker.
“Unchained'' finds the legendary Man in Black singing better than
ever before and covering everything from old Cash originals like
“Mean-Eyed Cat'' to songs by Beck and Soundgarden. Like Tony
Bennett, Cash has found himself a fatherly icon amongst the MTV
“Unchained'' debuted this week at No. 26 on the Billboard
country chart. Not bad for a country artist of any era, but
particularly great for someone who's been counted out of the game
as many times as Cash has.
“I haven't had (a record) that high in a long time,'' Cash said
in an interview last week. “It feels good. It feels like the '50s
all over again.''
Cash was let go from Columbia Records in 1986 and moved to
Mercury, where things just didn't blossom like he expected. Once
free of Mercury, Cash wondered what path he would take next. That's
when Rubin called.
“Rick came looking for me,'' Cash said. “I was playing a show
in California, and he called my manager and asked if we could talk.
Once I found out who he was, I said, 'Why in the world would he be
interested in me?' And I asked him that. He said he knew my work
and that he wanted to sit me down, give me and microphone and a
guitar and let me sing everything I wanted, and then he'd find a
way to make an album out of it. We let the idea sit a while, and he
was still serious about it months later. He made me believe I could
do what I really wanted to do.''
See, even American legends need a little encouragement. Rubin's
devotion to the project convinced Cash to sign up, and the result
was “American Recordings,'' an astonishing guitar-and-voice affair
that revived Cash among his two generations of fans and added a
third — a new group of young admirers, lured by the vogue
“Unplugged'' nature of the record and by the historical awe that
surrounds the figure of Cash.
On “Unchained,'' which features Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
as the backing band, Cash keeps up his balancing act between the
old and new fans. For the longtime fans, he covers another Carter
Family tune (“Kneeling Drunkard's Plea'') and finishes a Cash
original that wasn't finished the first time he recorded it (“Mean
Eyed Cat''). For the new fans, Cash covers a couple of modern rock
pioneers and does so with the power and grace that has tamed all
musical influences around him these 40-odd years.
The new disc opens with “Rowboat,'' a plaintive love lament
written by the cutting edge's boy wonder, Beck.
“I used him as an opener a year and a half ago in L.A., and he
sang some Carter Family Appalachian things. He also sang 'Rowboat,'
and I really liked it,'' Cash said.
The Soundgarden cover, “Rusty Cage,'' didn't come to him so
easily. Rubin asked Cash if he'd heard the song; Cash said no, so
Rubin played him the Soundgarden album.
“Right away I said, 'That's not for me. No way. I can't record
that song.' But Rick said, 'What if we work up an arrangement that
feels comfortable for you,' and I thought about it. The lyrics
really fascinated me. It's like the Beat look at a love affair --
very mystical, interpret-it-your-own-way kind of lyrics. But I just
didn't think there was any way. They worked a long time, and it
worked out. Now it's my favorite song that I perform,'' Cash said.
The choice of new material is more than mere kow-towing to the
current hip couture, but Cash said it's nice to have more young
fans. The monumental legacy of Cash's career doesn't seem to be
daunting to the new fans, either, and Cash said there's really no
prerequisite for understanding his music.
“You know, the 'American Recordings' was really what I wanted
people to hear from me — just me and my guitar. That's why I like
any country artist.''
And what's next for this cornerstone of country music, and how
many more boosters does he have to fire in his career? For now,
Cash said he's just taking one show at a time, entertaining his
fans — from each generation — as his highest priority.
“I've been around twice now. This is my third time around,''
Cash said. “Everything else from now on is gravy.''
By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
Out at the Tulsa airport, there's a woman who runs a little
booth called "Minute Massage,'' or something like that. One buck
equals one minute of massage — a nice back rub and your feet on
one of those vibrating bumpy pads. I'm thinking of making the drive
out there today with a wad of cash. I wonder if she would
understand my aches and pains if I just collapsed in her chair and
murmured, "George Clinton.''
Clinton and his P-Funk All-Stars played (and shook the
foundations of) the Cain's Ballroom on Thursday night. They played
and they played and they played — for three and a half hours they
played, and I jumped up and down the whole time. I had no choice.
The funkmeister made me do it.
I can't say he didn't warn me. After the first "song'' — a
juggernaut medley that began with "The Bomb'' and kept exploding
for 30 minutes — Clinton and his tag-team of a few dozen musicians
launched into "If Anybody Gets Funked Up (It's Gonna Be You),'' a
track from Clinton's latest album, "T.A.P.O.A.F.O.M. (The Awesome
Power of a Fully Operational Mothership).'' The word "funk''
frequently substituted for another f-word, but in these hands it
was effective either way.
You couldn't ask for a more amazing show. Every era of Clinton's
four-decade career at the helm of two of music's most influential
and interwoven bands — Funkadelic and Parliament — was
represented, as was each generation of the Clinton family.
The show started off with the sexy R&B of the Parliament
players. They came on one by one — drums, then add the bass, then
the keyboards, then cycle through the horn players, then The Man.
Clinton walked on stage like the king of the tribe, wearing a
multi-colored knit hat over that mass of multi-colored hair that
looks like the mop used to clean up the spills in a kindergarten
classroom. (And was that a simple bed sheet he wore, patterned with
planets, stars and spaceships?) In no time, the band had the crowd
jumping to Parliament classics like "Tear the Roof Off the Sucker
(Give Up the Funk)'' and "Flash Light.''
Later in the show, the harder-rocking Funkadelic side of things
was showcased — the yang to Parliament's yin.
An enthralling, 15-minute instrumental jam spotlighted guitarist
Mike Hampton as one of the most scorching players alive. Later,
when Star Child led the rapping (wearing only a huge diaper with a
"P'' on the front and the word "Booty'' on the back), the
capacity crowd became one very large backup chorus. Funkadelic
tunes such as "Can You Get to That'' and "Free Your Mind and Your
Ass Will Follow'' fired up the joint, as did the appearance of
Louis "Babbling'' Kababbie. He's a rapper Clinton produces, and
he's a middle-aged, balding white guy. He looks like he just came
in from Miami Beach and left his leisure suit in a backstage
locker. But when he starts rapping — leading the crowd in shouts
of "Booty!'' — he rips it out like Cypress Hill's B-Real.
All in all, 29 musicians paraded around Thursday night. At one
point, there were 22 people jamming on the Cain's modest little
stage. (Actually, not all of them were musicians. The Nose, for
instance, is simply a handsome man wearing an 8-inch plastic nose
and a Cyrano hat, and his job is just to dance a bit and be
noticed. Nice work if you can get it.)
Clinton's son and granddaughter both came out to rap their own
songs. By the end of the show, the stage was filled with women.
Listening to this music, from the high-jumping funk to the
smooth and jazzy grooves, it was clear that all roads in black
music and beyond either lead to George Clinton or at least pass
through the P-Funk metropolis. Everything that's come out of
Prince, even his latest guitar-drenched rock album, was born of
Funkadelic. Every hip-hop and rap artist had to be influenced by
this early beat and Clinton's astonishingly poetic raps about the
folly of drugs and the CIA ("It is more profitable to pretend that
we're stopping it than it is to sell it''). Even drag queen
extraordinaire RuPaul put together a dance track on his first
record with a chorus that changes only one word from a Clinton
original: "Free your mind, and the rest will follow.''
All that history made for one killer party Thursday night. Half
of the delightfully diverse, capacity crowd was still in the
ballroom when the band finally left near 1 a.m. If everyone's feet
are as sore as mine, here's to you all.
How does Clinton — granddaddy Clinton — pull this off
every night? See you at the masseur.
By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey
"Live in Tokyo"
Norman Vincent Peale would be proud of these guys. They think so
positively. They envision their future. At least, we can only hope
this is their future. "Live in Tokyo'' — a title slightly more
ambitious as this funk-jazz band's debut, "Live at the Lincoln
Continental'' — starts with the roar of a Tokyo stadium crowd and
an announcer that introduces the band in Japanese. They may not
have come close to playing Tokyo yet, but if their ambitions play
out and this great groove holds up, these guys will be on a world
tour any day.
The world wishes, anyway. At heart, the MC5 was nothin' but a
party, and Jacob Fred lives that ideal better than any fusion
knock-off that's come along since today's thrift store clothes were
new on the racks. These guys meld jazz, funk and rap with the
fluidity of shamans so that you're making weird snake movements
with your limbs long before your ego chimes in with how silly you
"Live in Tokyo'' is a quantum leap forward form the debut disc.
The sound is better, the songs are better and the whole band is
more assured. The atmospherics on such dreamy swirls as "Hymn
1008'' are the epitome of control, and the rap — a highlighted
element — is heavy. "Captain Funk'' is literally a scream; never
has praise of local eateries sounded so unbelievably righteous. Say
amen, buy the thing.
These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.